If you take a night ferry, you will still be scarred from when you took the night train, so your expectations will be appropriately low. You will board the boat with apprehension and a firm grip on the bottles of wine you brought to ease your passage. You will board through the automotive entrance and be given no additional information about where to go or how to find your cabin.
Did you even book a cabin? You don’t know. The booking website was mostly in Croatian, but even in English you wouldn’t know the difference between an inside berth or an outside cabin because, and this is important, everything you know about boat travel was learned from James Cameron and Titanic. This isn’t exactly a comfort.
Somehow you’ll follow enough directional arrows to arrive at reception, which is more or less just a landing platform somewhere near the middle of the ship. You’ll be pleased to learn that you did, in fact, book a cabin and that it is number 303. It will have a window/porthole that you will find charming, and you will have your very own sink. While it will still be bunk bed sleeping, when compared to your cabin in the night train, this will be downright spacious.
The Americans in the room next to yours will greet you in the hallway and laugh over how surreal it is to be traveling by boat. The male half of the couple will quip, incredulously, “We’re going to sea, you guys!” His grin will be infectious.
Because it is only 7:00, you will grab a bottle of wine and some snacks and head for the deck. You will get a little lost along the way, but you will eventually find yourself seated on a bench on the boat’s starboard side (you will learn the difference, at last, between port and starboard), drinking wine out of tiny plastic cups you keep in your travel bag. The sky will paint itself in hazy pastels as the sun drifts toward the horizon, and the moon — a huge full moon you weren’t expecting — will arc into a night sky dotted with stars. You will snap photo after worthless photo, never doing justice to this view.
Once it’s dark and the breeze somehow settles beneath your skin, you’ll head to an enclosed cafe on the boat’s stern (you will also learn the difference between bow and stern). There, you’ll catch the eye of those same fellow Americans you met earlier, and they will join you at your table. You will become fast friends over three bottles of wine, some deliciously salty sheep cheese that crumbles at your touch, and the salami you bought at a grocery store before boarding. You will make a bit of a scene with your raucous laughter. You will not care.
You will part ways around midnight and tumble into bed. (Unbeknownst to you, three days and two cities later, you will meet these friends again. You will spot her red hair through the crowd and give chase through the cobblestone streets. You will hug out of sheer delight — no one expects to see someone they know in the middle of Dubrovnik — and you will make plans to see each other the next evening.) The bed will be too short for your husband, who will sleep with his knees in the air, making tents out of blankets, but you will sleep like the dead. The boat will not rock, the boat will not creak, the air conditioner will keep the room a comfortable temperature.
You will wake the next morning far earlier than you’d like, as the boat comes into port at 6:30 (you will be unprepared for this, as the Internet told you it would be 7:00). A member of the crew will knock repeatedly on your door to hurry you along. Your husband will give you a dirty look for opening the door for her while he is in his underwear. You will stick your tongue out at him.
You will pack with groggy, thick-fingered speed and stumble off the boat in your pajamas. You will find a cafe and order very necessary caffeinated beverages. You will be exhausted, yes, but that is not the fault of the night ferry.
See, if you take a night ferry, you will find it to be a majestic way to travel, one that makes the most of your time while you sleep, one that treats you to glorious sunset views of the Croatian coastline, one that facilitates new friendships. If you take a night ferry, you will find the trip smooth, the bed comfortable, the cabin silent, and, most importantly, the air conditioner working. You will find it to be, and I mean this in all possible ways, smooth sailing.
If you are exhausted from your time on the night ferry, then that is because of you, your new American pals, and three bottles of wine. Or perhaps it’s because you stayed up all night to watch the sky change colors, to watch stars pop in and out of being. Perhaps you woke up early to enjoy breakfast on the bow. Perhaps you wanted to watch the sun rise.
If you are exhausted, frankly, then you have done the night ferry right. If you are exhausted, congratulations, for you will regret nothing.